Virgil Abloh, Alber Elbaz and More – WWD

Major fashion designers, industry executives and prominent figures in the fashion world were among those that died in 2021.

The year saw several major deaths among long-revered fashion designers, including former longtime Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz, who passed away in April due to complications with COVID-19. The designer was credited with rejuvenating the French fashion house during his tenure from 2001 to 2015, and later combined his design ethos with technology for the launch of his fashion label AZ Factory earlier this year.

The industry was rocked in November at the sudden news that Virgil Abloh, founder and designer of luxury streetwear brand Off-White and artistic director of men’s wear at Louis Vuitton, passed away at the age of 41 after a private two-year battle with cancer. Abloh was known for bringing streetwear into the luxury realm, paving the way for other designers to enter the mainstream fashion lexicon. He was also one of the first Black designers to helm a major design house.

Several prominent female figures also passed away this year, including famed Tiffany & Co. jewelry designer Elsa Peretti, whose signature silver jewelry and motifs are still staples at the fine jeweler, and model and actress Cicely Tyson, who was known for portraying strong Black women in her roles.

Here, WWD looks back to the people we lost in 2021. Read on for more.

Harry Brant – Son of Stephanie Seymour and Peter Brant

Harry Brant, the son of supermodel Stephanie Seymour and businessman and art collector Peter Brand, died on Jan. 17 at the age of 24. The cause of death was an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

Takeshi Osumi – Fashion designer

Takeshi Osumi, one half of the design duo behind Japanese men’s wear brand Mistergentleman, died on Jan. 24 at the age of 47 due to sepsis. Osumi started the brand in 2012 with codesigner Yuichi Yoshii and frequently showed during Tokyo Fashion Week.

Heidi Weisel – Fashion designer

Fashion designer Heidi Weisel died on Jan. 28 at the age of 59. The designer came of age in the 1990s, staging her first show in 1999 and developing a celebrity clientele that included Natasha Richardson, Faith Hill and Brooke Shields.

Cicely Tyson – Model and actress

Major Deaths in Fashion in 2021

Cicely Tyson at the 45th annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles.

Trailblazing Black model and actress Cicely Tyson died on Jan. 28 at the age of 98. Her career spanned seven decades and was defined by portraying strong women.

She was nominated for an Academy Award in 1972 for her role as Rebecca Morgan in “Sounder,” a film about a family of Black sharecroppers. She also won two Emmy Awards, the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal and President Barack Obama awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. She later went on to become the first Black woman to receive an honorary Oscar in 2018.

Ruth Dayan – Founder of Maskit  

Ruth Dayan, founder of Maskit fashion house and first wife of former Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan, died on Feb. 5 at the age of 103. She founded Maskit in 1954 as a government-sponsored organization, initially created to preserve the local craftsmanship of immigrants who came to Israel.

Jessica McClintock – Fashion designer

Fashion designer Jessica McClintock died on Feb. 16 at the age of 90. McClintock created a multimillion-dollar company creating girly dresses favored for proms, Sweet 16s and other special occasions.

Fred Segal – Los Angeles retailer

Famed Los Angeles retailer, Fred Segal, died on Feb. 23 at the age of 87 after complications from a stroke. His eponymous store has been a staple in Los Angeles since 1961, cultivating the quintessential L.A. look and discovering emerging brands before they became globally popular, including Hard Candy, Juicy Couture, Jeremy Scott and Trina Turk.

Richard David Story – Former Departures editor

Richard David Story, the former longtime Departures editor, died on March 5 at the age of 68. Story had worked at several major publications throughout his career, including Departures, Vogue, Esquire, InStyle and New York Magazine.

Howard Silver – Purveyor of luxury and niche fabrics

Howard Silver, a purveyor of luxury and niche fabrics, died on March 6 at the age of 71 due to septic shock and ischemia. Silver was known for expanding his family’s textile business, Jasco Fabrics, which produced textiles for brands like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Vera Wang, Diane von Furstenberg and many others.

Elsa Peretti – Tiffany & Co. jewelry designer and Halston muse

Major Deaths in Fashion in 2021

Elsa Peretti and Halston attend the Fragrance Foundation’s dinner together in the Plaza Hotel.
Lynn Karlin

Elsa Peretti, famed Tiffany & Co. jewelry designer and former model, died on March 18 at the age of 80. Peretti was one of the most influential figures in the jewelry industry, with her minimal silver jewelry designs and iconic styles like the bone cuff and bean becoming a core part of Tiffany & Co.’s brand identity. She was also one of legendary fashion designer Halston’s many muses, collaborating on collections and modeling his pieces.

Lynn Murray – Former photo director at Hearst Publications

Lynn Murray, former photo director at Hearst Publications, died on March 22 at the age of 62. She was one of the victims in the shooting at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo., and was among 10 people who lost their lives in the attack.

Marvin Lord – Apparel executive

Marvin Lord, a prominent executive and dealmaker at several major apparel firms, died on March 29 at the age of 83 due to kidney failure. He spent the last 14 years of his career as vice president at the E.A. Hughes executive search firm, which is part of Solomon Page.

Giancarlo DiTrapano – Founder of Tyrant Books 

Giancarlo DiTrapano, writer, indie publisher and founder of Tyrant Books, died on March 30 at the age of 47.  

Carla Zampatti – Australian fashion designer

Australian fashion designer Carla Zampatti died on April 3 at the age of 78 after falling at an outdoor Opera Australia production. Zampatti’s career spanned 56 years and her company operates a chain of 26 boutiques across Australia and New Zealand.

Alber Elbaz – Former Lanvin designer and founder of AZ Factory 

Major Deaths in Fashion in 2021

Alber Elbaz
Giovanni Giannoni/WWD

Famed fashion designer Alber Elbaz passed away on April 25 at the age of 59 after dealing with complications due to COVID-19. The fashion designer was known for his rejuvenation of Lanvin from 2001 to 2015 and later launching his own fashion label, AZ Factory, earlier this year, which blended fashion and technology.

Leigh H. Perkins – Owner of The Orvis Company

Leigh H. Perkins, owner of The Orvis Company, died on May 7 at the age of 93. Perkins transformed the company into the country’s top outdoors brand over three decades.

Lee Abraham 2nd – Former chairman of Associated Merchandising Corp.

Lee Abraham 2nd, former chairman of Associated Merchandising Corp., died on May 7 at the age of 93 due to complications from cancer. Under Abraham, AMC became one of the world’s largest retail and sourcing organizations for department stores.

Frances Patiky Stein – Designer and stylist

Designer and stylist Frances Patiky Stein died on June 6 at the age of 83. She helped define the fashions and accessories for brands like Halston, Calvin Klein and Chanel.

Morton Myles – Fashion designer

Fashion designer Morton Myles died on June 23 at the age of 92 due to cancer. Morton was a familiar face on Seventh Avenue and Fire Island and was known for creating affordable, smart clothing.

Jill Fairchild – Wife of WWD editorial director and publisher John B. Fairchild

Major Deaths in Fashion in 2021

Jill Fairchild
Courtesy Photo

Jill Fairchild, wife of WWD editorial director and publisher John B. Fairchild, died on June 25 at the age of 94. Fairchild was a quiet force who advised, pushed and supported her husband while being an acute observer of fashion, culture and style.

Elaine MacNeil – General manager of Urban Decay

Elaine MacNeil, general manager of Urban Decay, died in July at the age of 72. She had also served as a consultant for L’Oréal Luxe prior to joining Urban Decay.

Hiro – Fashion photographer

Japanese American photographer Yasuhiro Wakabayashi, known best as Hiro, died on Aug. 15 at the age of 90. He was best known for his Surrealism, unexpected lighting and experimentation with bold colors.

Angelo Zegna – Son of Ermenegildo Zegna  

Angelo Zegna, the son of Ermenegildo Zegna, died on Aug. 19 at the age of 97. Zegna took the reins of the company in the 1960s with his brother Aldo, leading the Italian fashion house when it made its ready-to-wear debut and expanded internationally.

Eric Sung-Tsei Chen – Markwins Beauty Brand founder and CEO

Eric Sung-Tsei Chen, the founder and CEO of Markwins Beauty Brands, died on Aug. 26 at the age of 63 due to a respiratory illness. Chen launched the company 37 years ago and had grown its portfolio to include brands like Wet ‘n’ Wild, Physicians Formula, Lorac and many others.

Ursula Rickenbacher – Fashion designer  

Ursula Rickenbacher, special occasion fashion designer, died on Sept. 1. She was believed to be in her 80s. Called the “queen of lace,” the designer was known for her “mother-of-the-bride” dresses and other special occasion attire.

Frankie Welch – Fashion designer and boutique owner 

Frankie Welch, fashion designer and boutique owner, died on Sept. 2 at the age of 97. Welch was known for dressing first ladies, diplomats’ wives and other notable figures in the Washington, D.C., area. 

Roberto Compagno – Slowear president and CEO

Roberto Compagno, president and CEO of Slowear, died on Sept. 15 at the age of 62. Compagno was responsible for spearheading the Venice-based brand’s retail expansion internationally.

Connie Uzzo – Executive at Yves Saint Laurent  

Connie Uzzo, longtime confidante and executive at Yves Saint Laurent, died on Sept. 21 at the age of 85 due to urosepsis. She worked as an executive at the fashion house for 28 years, helping direct its American business.

Lynda Johnson – Former style director and FIT professor

Lynda Johnson, longtime Children’s Business style director and Fashion Institute of Technology professor, died on Sept. 25 at the age of 65 due to pneumonia. Johnson was the style director of Sportstyle and Children’s Business, which were both under Fairchild Publications.

Edward D. Solomon – Longtime footwear and retail executive

Edward D. Solomon, longtime footwear and retail executive, died on Sept. 28 at the age of 90. His career spanned nearly 50 years and included roles as CEO at companies like Karl’s Shoes and Shoe Town.

Federica Cavenati – 16Arlington fashion designer

Major Deaths in Fashion in 2021

Federica Cavenati
Courtesy Photo

Federica Cavenati, cofounder and designer of London-based brand 16Arlington, died on Oct. 18 at the age of 28 following a short and sudden illness. She founded the fashion label in 2017 with her partner Marco Capaldo, which has been sold through Net-a-porter and Matchesfashion and worn by Emma Corrin, Kendall Jenner, Amal Clooney and others.

Gerald Alan Barnes – Former top Neiman Marcus executive

Gerald Alan Barnes, a 35-year veteran of Neiman Marcus, died on Oct. 25 at the age of 68 after battling lung cancer. Barnes held multiple executive positions at the company, both for the stores and website sides of the luxury business.

Steven Mark Klein – Archivist  

Steven Mark Klein, brand builder and archivist died on Oct. 25 at the age of 70 from suicide. Klein left an indelible mark on the industry, serving as a cultural theorist, archivist and lifelong freelancer and created logos and ads for brands like Montblanc, Iridium and Swatch.

Ciro Paone – Founder of Kiton

Ciro Paone, founder of Italian luxury tailoring brand Kiton, died on Oct. 27 at the age of 88. Paone is credited with expanding the company globally, while preserving its artisanal appeal and cultural value.

Janet Racy – Fashion consultant, show producer

Janet Racy, fashion and lifestyle consultant, died on Oct. 28 at the age of 68 due to complications from surgery following a long illness. Racy held multiple jobs during her career, including trend forecaster, designer, show producer and visual display specialist.

Aaron M. Feuerstein – Former CEO of Malden Mills Industries

Aaron M. Feuerstein, former CEO of Malden Mills Industries, died on Nov. 4 at the age of 95. The company, which was founded by his grandfather, offered specialized fabrics and wool apparel.  

Kathleen Kirkwood – QVC fashion designer

Kathleen Kirkwood, former QVC personality and fashion designer, died on Nov. 5 at the age of 62. Known as the “Diva of Shoulder Pads,” Kirkwood’s signature design was the “Pints of Pads” clip-on shoulder pads.

Helene Fortunoff – Jewelry retailer

Jewelry retailer Helene Fortunoff died on Nov. 8 at the age of 88 due to a non-COVID-19 respiratory illness. She was known for establishing an in-house jewelry department within her family business and developing it into a global fine jewelry retailer.

Chris-Tia Donaldson – Founder of TGIN  

Chris-Tia Donaldson, founder of hair care brand TGIN, died on Nov. 13 at the age of 42. Formerly a lawyer, Donaldson launched TGIN in 2013 after transitioning away from lye-based hair relaxers.

Virgil Abloh – Off-White founder and Louis Vuitton men’s wear artistic director

Major Deaths in Fashion in 2021

Virgil Abloh

The fashion world was stunned on Nov. 28 at the sudden news that Virgil Abloh, founder of luxury streetwear brand Off-White and artistic director of men’s wear at Louis Vuitton, died at the age of 41. Abloh died after a private, two-year battle with cancer.

Abloh was considered a visionary in the industry, bringing streetwear into the luxury realm and paving the way for other streetwear designers to enter mainstream fashion. He was also one of the first Black designers to helm a major design house, with his men’s wear designs for Louis Vuitton spearheading the designer brand into an era of modernity. The designer was equally committed to his fashion lines as he was supporting the next generation of designers, raising $1 million in scholarships for Black fashion students. 

Adolfo Sardinia – Fashion Designer

Adolfo Sardinia, known best as former first lady Nancy Regan’s go-to fashion designer, died Nov. 30 at the age of 98. The designer worked at Balenciaga and millinery brand Emme before working with the first lady.


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